Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Posts Tagged ‘MCA

Rashid Johnson: Message to Our Folks

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Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Rashid Johnson, “Self Portrait in Homage to Barkley Hendricks,” 2005.

Why is Self Portrait in Homage to Barkley Hendricks not included in the MCA’s current Rashid Johnson retrospective, Message to Our Folks?  The photographic work is included in the exhibition catalogue, and MCA curator Julie Rodriguez Widholm writes that it is perhaps Johnson’s “most understood work.”  The work is an illustrative example of both Johnson’s “dialogue with black American creative and intellectual figures whose impact has transcended race” and his “dialogue with modern and contemporary art history, specifically abstraction and appropriation.”  Both these quotes are from the curatorial statement on the MCA’s website.  True, other self portraits (some of which engage in appropriation and cultural and intellectual figures) are in the exhibition, but they don’t compare in my opinion to the stark and confrontational Self Portrait in Homage to Barkley Hendricks.

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Four Facts: This Will Have Been

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Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

“I got love for you if you were born in the 80s,” croons Calvin Harris. Why thank you Calvin, I was in fact, born in the 80s, towards the end of it, but still.  This is why the MCA’s This Will Have Been is such a fun show for me—because it presents work that I am mostly unfamiliar with.  Unfamiliar, for two reasons: one—the work has not been thoroughly historicized yet, and two—I wasn’t around when most of the work was being produced.

There are A LOT of conversations in the show, some of which you can find here, here, here, and here.  While that might be confusing, the overall curatorial statement is to present “the decade’s moments of contentious debate, raucous dialogue, erudite opinions, and joyful expression.” And there were a lot.

Everybody loves an inflatable bunny!

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Night Life

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California Academy of Sciences

What are you wearing!?

In case you didn’t know, I love 21+ museum events.  They combine three of my favorite things: museums, drinking, and a child-free environment.  While I was briefly home in San Francisco I checked out an event similar to the MCA’s First Friday program: Night Life at the California Academy of Sciences.   Every Thursday (that’s right it’s weekly!) the Academy opens its doors to the masses of yuppy first daters, and unwashed hipsters (seriously I overheard several conversations about burning man).  Like MCA’s First Fridays, every Night Life is themed; the theme on the night I went was Fire and Ice.  With a theme like that how could I not have a good time?

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First Fridays

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Museum of Contemporary Art

One of these things is not like the others.

Well what an unexpected night that was.  Let me just say this event took me by surprise, this event was way more LA than Chicago.  Let me spell it out for you: S-I-N-G-L-E-S N-I-G-H-T.  This was the main reason I insisted my one friend come; she’s been looking for some action lately.  No one goes to First Fridays for the art, and I completely see why.  The DJ playing Daft Punk, the multiple buffets of food, several bars (if you’re lucky you get into the member’s bar), and the slew of sponsor tables make it hard to remember that there is any art here at all.  This event seemed mildly inappropriate for a museum to host, and then I realized First Fridays is like a lot of museum events I’ve been to in LA.  I realized I was totally fine with First Fridays, especially because I had a handful of free drink tickets.

I wasn’t allowed inside Acconci’s clam, should I blame these people?

There are also two big exhibitions currently going on at the MCA: Without You I’m Nothing: Art and Its Audience, an exhibition of audience engaged artworks drawn from the MCA’s permanent collection, and the Luc Tuymans retrospectiveWithout You, was hardly engaging, mostly because the security guards (following someone’s orders) were not allowing people to get busy with the artwork.  The Tuymans show was muted (dare I say bland) in this chaotic nightclub atmosphere. It didn’t help that the art-types that came to this events had probably already seen the shows, and the non-art-types cared more about seeing (hotties) and being seen (by said hotties) than actually seeing art.

I am not going to pretend that I am not guilty of this; I was more concerned with cashing in my drink tickets (and coordinating the rest of the night’s activities; “come meet us at the W!”).  But I also tried to engage with the artworks behind the gallery guards’ backs, but had more trouble forcing myself to look at the halls upon halls of mauve Tuymans paintings.

Koons Selfie.

Some of the highlights of works I engaged with in Without You:  Jeff Koons’s silver Rabbit.  So because it reflects me, it needs me?—I’m going to disagree, and say this bunny doesn’t need me; it needs people like Eli Broad (the bunny is one of Broad’s favorites, although he doesn’t own this one; surprise they are multiples).

Tuymans’s Condi is not happy, but is she ever?

Upstairs is the Tuymans show, which I flew through, hardly noticing the muted colors on the wall.  This is just a personal thing: I did personally enjoy some of his works (especially the large scale paintings at the end of this exhibition), but seeing room after room of paintings that look like the color has been drained or sucked from the neck gets monotonous.

Unruly holiday creature.

Back downstairs, in the huge crowd single guys and gals, frolicked a reindeer-headed creature.  I don’t know if this was a performance piece or what, but it was creepy especially as the creature had no sense of personal space was because he/she/it was wielding a crutch.  The theme (yes every First Friday has a theme) was something to do with the holidays.  (Last month’s theme was Bollywood, and January’s theme is simply called “HEAT.” Oh god, I’m so sad to be missing that.)

Some heat, courtesy of Olafur Eliasson’s heatlamp.

How the sponsors fit into the “theme” is more questionable.  Links of London had a huge table of products and posters featuring spokesmodel Kat Deely (remember her from So You Think You Can Dance?”).  Also present were Crew hair products (not enough SWAG), Francesca’s Restaurants (which was serving something delicious and chocolatley), and it was unclear whether Tanqueray was also a sponsor (but I definitely enjoyed some thank you very much).

In general, this event was ludicrous (but not in a bad way).  I would never go to this event to seriously look at the work and wouldn’t suggest you attempt to do so either, so thumbs down for the event.  I will wager, however, that First Fridays draws in large crowds of people who otherwise don’t visit the museum, so thumbs up for the event.  Another questionable element is this sponsorship thing, but hey if it means the MCA gets to put on these events at less of the cost, then who are you or I to question it.  What’s your bottom line?—Mine is pretty low, but that’s because I come from the world of PR and corporate sponsorship.  So shut up and enjoy your SWAG.

The artwork begged me to dance up against it; without me, it’s nothing.

– H.I.

Public Notice 3

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Art Institute of Chicago

Not-so-coincidentally Public Notice 3, by Jitish Kallat opened on September 11, 2010.  You probably remember what happened on September 11, 2001, but September 11, 1893 is also intrinsically important to this piece.  The words from a speech given by the Indian monk and social reformer Swami Vivekananda on September 11, 1893 have been illuminated in thousands of colored LED lights and set into the risers of the Woman’s Board Grand Staircase in the Art Institute.  The “landmark speech delivered at the first World’s Parliament of Religions, in what is now the Art Institute’s Fullerton Hall, by Vivekananda, who called for an end to all “bigotry and fanaticism.”” Another major element of this piece is therefore site-specificity.

Danger, danger, high voltage.

Vivekananda’s words are illuminated in five significant colors taken from the United States’ Homeland Security Advisory System.  It’s been a while since I thought about this color system, so I needed to refresh myself on the meaning/terminology.  Red = severe risk of terrorist attack, orange = high risk, yellow= elevated risk, blue = general risk, and green = low risk.  I kinda forgot about this institutionalized system of fear, and being reminded of it, I realize I can totally live without it.

I wonder what security level the Art Institute is operating at right now.

The message in this work is profound, meaningful, and especially timely—too bad the execution of the work is lacking.  What could have looked high-tech and modern, ended up looking like a cheap lite brite from the 90s.  I will concede that spending a lot of cash on something expensive placed at foot level also wouldn’t fly with me, so I forgive those responsible, and shall consider them frugal and realistic.  One well executed element is that no matter which of the four entrances up the stairs you enter (or exit) you read the same text; you read the whole speech regardless of the path you take.

Standart, they came up with that not me.

A colleague of mine stated Public Notice 3, looked like a cheap version of Jenny Holzer, and this seemed like a tired (done and done better) idea.  I know all about Jenny Holzer, mostly from the installation of her work in the Standard Hotel in downtown LA.  The medium might be similar, but the impact is totally different (mainly because of context: Museum vs. swanky hipster hotel).  To say that Holzer is completely original in using LED lights would also be incorrect; Baldessari was using scrolling LED light messages as early as 1968 in his Lighted Moving Message.

Vintage LED lights, in Pure Beauty.

And if you were wondering, there is indeed a Public Notice 2, and even an original Public Notice.  Number 1 was created in2003, and is made up of five mirrored panels and uses text from a speech given by Jawaharlal Nehru on the occasion of Indian independence from British rule on 15 August 1947.  Number 2, was created in 2008, and is also a physical manifestation of another historic speech, this one delivered by Mahatma Gandhi, on the eve of the epic Salt March to Dandi.  Kallat is an Indian artist, which is probably why he uses speeches from important Indian orators, but the themes in these speeches are (as corny as it sounds) universal, and very topical for an American audience.

Bad ad and small advertising budget.

Chicago art-going audiences might be over art installations on stairs.  Right now, just a few blocks away at the MCA, is another installation on their front stairs.  For the life of me (and almost a half hour of googling it) I couldn’t figure out who this installation was by. And then I read the words again; it says “form, balance, joy” in bubbely, bouncing letters—so it might just be a bad attempt at advertising their recent Calder show.   Apparently the MCA really likes doing the whole installation on the stairs thing and has done a few in the past.  I hope that people in Chicago aren’t bored of stair installations, because this one at the Art Institute is way different (and way cooler) the ones I’ve seen so far at the MCA.

– H.I.

P.S. here are some more photos of Public Notice 3, via the Art Institute’s Flickr, yes they have a Flickr, and yes I approve of them using social media in this way.  And look a blog post too!

Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy

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Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago)

This horribly titled MCA show closes later this week, so if you feel inspired to go see it after reading this post, you need to do so ASAP.  The show is presented in two parts divided between to the two whale-ribcage- sized rooms on the entry level floor.  In the first room are works by Calder, and in the second is a presentation of seven contemporary artists inspired by Calder.  The lineup: Martin Boyce, Nathan Carter, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Aaron Curry, Kristi Lippire, Jason Meadows, and Jason Middlebrook.  This show is really two shows.  If you want to make close comparisons (or if you have short-term memory loss problems like I have), you’ll have to run back and forth from room to room.  Some of the inspirations or cues derived from Calder are blatantly obvious, others more nuanced, others waaaay out there.

Calder in a hot topic right now in Chicago.  Flamingo, 1973 is his best known public piece in Chicago.  Recently Calder’s commissioned work The Universe at Willis (aka Sears) Tower has been in the news.  The kinetic sculpture may possible be removed from Willis Towers, as Sears (the original owners) want to get their hot little hands on it.  For you L.A. readers, there is a great Calder public work (also a kinetic sculpture) in Los Angeles; hidden in a corner of the LACMA campus is a huge Calder fountain called Hello Girls.  For most of the year the fountain is dry, but during the hot seasons jets of water propel the huge mobile about languidly.

Back to Chicago, the first room (the Calder Room) looks like a giant moving Miro painting. A kelp forest of whimsical mobiles is hung from the high ceiling on delicate wires, and activated by the sublet air currents in the gallery.  The artificial, diffused lighting is very white- cube-contemporary, and only a few glass vitrines disrupt the unity of the clinical space.  Large (white of course) platforms, which I’m going to call risers, float like islands on the cement floor of the room.  The works cast ever-shifting shadows on the risers and on the walls, but unfortunately the diffused gallery lighting diminishes most of this magical effect.

 

No photography allowed!

 

The show is roughly organized into themes, but with no regard for chronology, which is unimportant really in this show.  One section focuses on Calder’s creative reuse. Bird , (from the MCA’s collection) made from recycled cans illustrates Calder’s choice to leave his raw materials visible.  Another corner is somewhat sectioned off for a group of playful works with animal imagery.

 

Dirty Birdie.

 

A substantial amount of the artwork in this show comes from the MCA’s permanent collection, most donated to the museum by the Horwich Family.  Calder was not from Chicago; Calder’s ties to the city were initially made through the Arts Club of Chicago.  The Horwich’s and other Chicago collectors became introduced to Calder’s work by the private Arts Club, an interesting example of how a private members only club can directly affect (albeit many years down the road) a public art museum.

 

Little Longnose—clever title.

 

This show also has a large amount of works on loan from museums across the country.  The loaners included:  The Whitney, the Sheldon Museum of Art, Harvard Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Art HoustonThe Stainless Stealer (1966), from the Hirshhorn Museum (a notable work because Calder left it unpainted) hangs in a corner, and is surrounded on the floor by a raised border about four inches thick.  The barrier seems foolish and is so unthreatening it dares you to walk over it. It’s odd the organizers of the show didn’t just put a riser underneath the work, people wouldn’t have stepped on that, or maybe they ran out of money.   Another work from the Hirshhorn, Little Longnose(1959), is the only work not displayed on a riser and its spindly black legs made direct contact with the cement floor.

 

Type of gum.

 

Along another wall is a combination of things I really disliked.  First, laminated cards were offered on unfriendly hooks, for visitors to ID the works hanging before them.  In addition to the lamented sheets wall labels were also provided.  But since a visitor passed between the wall with the labels and the works across the way the labels were intended to identify, all comprehension was really lost.  Big curatorial flaw in my opinion.  I don’t know why they curators didn’t just put the labels directly on the risers underneath the works, as has been done elsewhere in the room.  Despite this mess I was able to glean some fun facts.  I was able to figure out that a monumental work was called Big Red, (1959) and that it had come from the Whitney.  Also, the Broad Foundation really does lend broadworks out all over the country.  They had been kind enough to ship out Laocoon, 1947 and The Brass Gong, 1948.  The Broad Foundation also helped out financially with the show as well as Ruth Horwich (of the above Horwich Family no doubt).

 

Why?

 

The exhibition continued in the next room.  Works by the seven artists were varied, some of the Calder comparisons are mind-numbingly obvious like Aaron Curry’s biomorphic sculptures, and some of them seem very farfetched like Kristi Lippire’s Three Under Parr, 2008, while others felt just right like Nathan Carter’s large three dimensional wire drawing, TRAVELING LANGUAGE MACHINE WITH #3 FREQUENCY DISRUPTOR AND DISINFORMATION NUMBERS STATION, 2007.  Finally the exhibition continues even outside to the MCA’s sculpture garden, where some large loan pieces are displayed.  And yes I touched them; they’re public art after all.

I know I’m not giving the contemporary portion of the show enough attention, but that’s because I don’t care for the framing device of Calder-as-inspiration.  Rather go and view these works as individual pieces, some of them are fantastic, and some far more interesting than Calder (which isn’t that hard to accomplish really).

 

Abraham Cruzvillegas's Bougie du Isthmus, not just a great title.

 

– H.I.